WHAT started as a coffee morning for immigrant mothers about 18 months ago, hosted by the Cork Migrant Centre (CMC) at Nano Nagle Place in Cork city, is now a means of empowerment. So said Siobhan Allen, ministries manager at Nano Nagle place at a graduation ceremony at St John's Central College last Saturday.
Fifty-five women graduated in the parenting programme in this, the second year of this culturally sensitive course "which addresses the cultural differences and subsequent challenges between childcare practices and law in their homeland countries and Ireland."
The classes were initially facilitated by Dr Naomi Masheti (manager of CMC) at city-based direct provision centres. Now, outreach workshops are provided at direct provision centres in the county, in Clonakilty, Mallow, Drishane and Macroom. They are facilitated by a group of seven women in direct provision, in a peer-to-peer learning process.
Naomi, originally from Kenya, who has a doctorate in psychology from UCC, trained the seven women. She was aided by her colleague, Dr Colletta Daliki from Dundalk IT. Both CMC and Dundalk IT have developed the parenting programme, modelled on a programme initiated in Australia.
"The trainers are very dynamic in their own right," says Naomi. "They include a clinical psychologist, a pharmacist and a lawyer. They were able to take on the training because they have lived in direct provision centres themselves and continue to live in them.
"When you talk about family relations such as dinner table conversations, the families (in direct provision) don't even have that because there may be five children living in one room. It's very difficult and really hard to understand what it is like to parent in direct provision."
While there are no activities for children in direct provision centres, "parents can take their children out to parks which are free."
Naomi praises the work of organisations like the Cork City of Sanctuary which promotes an inclusive city. She says that it's impossible for mothers in direct provision, with a miniscule income of €38 per week, to pay for children's activities such as swimming classes and joining football clubs.
"But because of the City of Sanctuary movement, groups are offering different activities for children in direct provision, paying for them to join the scouts and other clubs. "
What stops mothers in direct provision from accessing employment is the language barrier and looking after their children all the time.
"When they come to us, the children are minded. The mothers are given English classes at Nano Nagle Place. They also do arts and crafts. We're hoping to turn these activities into an income-generating project for them. The women make beautiful head pieces. They took them into the Christmas market at St Peters and sold them. This helps them financially. It also helps their own dignity because it is empowerment."
Deborah Oniah, a qualified lawyer, originally from Nigeria, is living in direct provision in Mallow with her four children. She took part in the ten-week training course at CMC which allows her to train mothers "who don't know how the system in Ireland works.
"Back home in Nigeria, ideally, children are just seen and not necessarily heard. So a child won't tell you how they're feeling because parents don't ask them that question. We have different ways of disciplining also."
Being in direct provision is stressful.
"Parents don't realise that the children have their own stress. They're blanked out from that. The parenting course made us realise that you should pay as much attention to your children as you do to yourself. It's important to be more patient with the children and to ask them how they're feeling."
Deborah, who has been in direct provision for three years and hopes to eventually work in law in this country, says she had to leave Nigeria because of a difficult situation in her wider family.
"For me, having a law degree, gives me freedom and gives my children permission to be free. I have been through my own trauma so I want to be able to help other people."
The graduation ceremony was followed by a celebratory feast which was an event called 'Food without Borders' organised by Cork Food Policy Council, St John's College, Cork City of Sanctuary and the Cork Migrant Centre. Children and their mothers enjoyed the hospitality.
The Lord Mayor, Cllr John Sheehan, describe the event as "uplifting".
"This is a fantastic project. It's about empowering people...building up confidence. He added: "This is the future. You are the future in Ireland and Cork."
The whole event wouldn't have been possible without the help of the St Vincent de Paul Conference in Clonakilty which provides funds for the Friends of Clonakilty Asylum Seekers. This funding supports workshops, transport, room rental, course tutors, childminding and refreshment costs.
St Joseph's Trust also provides similar funding and support for the Drishane, Mallow and Macroom direct provision centres.
For more photographs see EchoLive.ie